Jude 1

Read the book of Jude

Jesus has atoned for our sins. Nothing can separate us from God’s love and we are fully and finally forgiven. So why not sin and live it up?

Some people think we should. They might not put it that directly, but they encourage us not to worry about giving in to our sin nature or striving for holiness. Like a player in Monopoly who draws the “get out of jail free” card, we have a permanent fire escape from hell and it can’t be lost or voided. So, some say, don’t worry about how you live because it will turn out fine in the end.

Jude taught us in this chapter/book that those who teach this way are “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” In what way do they “deny Jesus Christ?” They deny that he is “our only Sovereign and Lord.” In other words, they discount that he is king and, as his redeemed citizens, we live under his rules and are accountable for our lives.

Fortunately, Christ’s “rules” come with a new nature that desires holiness, the Holy Spirit that stimulates holiness within us, and a community of others to help us grow. This is why Jesus said that his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt 11:30). But if we fall under the false influence of ungodly teachers, we can do much damage to ourselves and others by living in ungodly ways.

Our defense against this corruption of the gospel is to “keep yourselves in God’s love” (v. 21a). How do you that? “By building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit.” It is so important to cultivate spiritual growth by daily learning the word, obeying what it says, and praying.

You’ve made it this far in our trek through the New Testament. I hope it has helped you grow stronger in your faith. But keep going “as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (v. 21b)–a reference to the return of Christ.

2 Peter 2

Read 2 Peter 2.

This chapter predicts strong judgment for false prophets. But the point of the chapter is not to warn the false prophets themselves; rather, the point is to warn US about them. They are sneakily deceptive according to verse 1 (“They will secretly introduce destructive heresies”). They “will exploit you” (v. 3) and “seduce the unstable” (v. 14b). Their judgment is certain according to God’s long pattern of judging the wicked (vv. 4-10), but before that judgment falls they will cause much “harm” (v. 13).

How do we avoid falling prey to these false prophets? Knowing the truth and comparing all truth claims to it is the most important way to avoid them. In addition, though, the scriptures encourage us to watch the outcome of their teaching and the lifestyle that they lead.

  • Are they greedy for money (v. 3a, 14c)? That’s a telling sign.
  • Does their teaching actually have tangible spiritual results? Or is it merely pious sounding talk with no real substance? Verse 17a says that they “are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.”
  • Are they really different–holy–themselves? Verse 19 says that they “promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity.”

There is so much teaching available to us now through books, radio, TV, and the Internet. These mass broadcast media make it harder to know what these teachers are really like, but you cannot hide what you are forever.

So, first of all, keep reading and learning God’s word. But beware–and wary–of the teachers you allow to influence you. Look for the substance of God’s word in their teaching and watch how they live. These things will help you know whether someone is a man of God or a false teacher.

1 Timothy 6

Read 1 Timothy 6.

What motivates teachers of false doctrine?

According to verse 4, it is pride: “they are conceited.”

And, wouldn’t you have to be?

To set forth your own ideas as if they were scripture, someone needs an over-inflated self-confidence.

Another motivation is greed; verse 5 says that false teachers “think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

Godliness comes from different motivations. Instead of bringing us wealth, however, it teaches us contentment. Verses 6-8 say, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” This world has many nice things to offer but the person who accumulates them all will leave them all behind when he dies.

When Steve Jobs died in 2011, he was worth over $10 billion but a beggar who died with nothing on the same day took the same amount of wealth into eternity. As Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” If you walk with God, however, and learn to trust him, having the basics will be all that you need. Again 1 Timothy 6:8 says, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”

This is what false teachers miss. They think that novel ideas about God will be a path to wealth that will given them satisfaction. Instead, they may find prosperity but miss the real gain of walking with God–a life of true satisfaction.

Are you content with what you have? Or do you think that more of something (or everything) will bring you more satisfaction? Money doesn’t by happiness but godliness brings contentment. Focus on your walk with God and let him satisfy you as no material thing can.

Acts 20

Back to Acts for 1 chapter, then we go to Romans tomorrow, according to the schedule I’m following for these devotions.

Read Acts 20.

As we read 2 Corinthians, we noted that Paul was coming to Corinth both to collect an offering for the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering (2 Cor 8) and to deal with those who were living in sin in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 13).

Here in Acts 20, Luke noted that Paul did in fact go to Corinth as he said he would (vv. 1-3). Paul continued on to Jerusalem stopping in Philippi (vv. 3-6) and Troas (vv. 7-12). He decided to travel by ship to Jerusalem and that ship stopped in several places (vv. 13-15). Paul decided not to go back to Ephesus, where he had spent so much time back in Acts 19, but he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him (vv. 16-38). His meeting with them was emotional because God had told him that he would suffer in Jerusalem (vv. 22-23) so he expected that he would not see the Ephesians again (vv. 35, 38).

If you had spent several years of fruitful ministry in a city but believed that you would never go back there, what would you say to the people you had discipled and mentored and taught? Paul’s message which Luke recorded in this chapter is summed up in verse 31: “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Paul knew that the church would face some difficult problems in the days ahead (v. 29), so he urged the elders to do the work of shepherding to protect themselves and the flock (v. 28).

But what was he getting at when he said, “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears”? That statement is, in essence, “Don’t forget my teaching and my example. When false doctrine comes in, remember what I taught you. Stick to it because it is God’s word; don’t stray from it.”

This is truth worth remembering.

There is a lot of teaching out there, some that claims to be biblical and Christian and some that makes no claim to be Christian but does claim to be true. People sometimes get enamored with new ideas or attracted to big promises to change their lives in some way. If what you are learning is biblical, it will align with what you already know to be true from scripture. If it takes you away from the doctrines you learned when you were saved and discipled, however, it is a trap that will hurt your spiritual life, not help it. So, evaluate everything and don’t ever forget the gospel and the word of God that was taught to you when you first became a believer.

Although Paul was deeply concerned about what the church at Ephesus would face, he did not stay there to try to protect the church himself. Instead, he expressed faith in God’s own oversight of the church and his word: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32).

When people we led to Christ move away or our children grow up and go out on their own, we can become concerned about the many threats to their spiritual lives that they will encounter and rightly so. It is good to be concerned, to express your concern, and to urge believers you love to watch themselves just as Paul did in this chapter.

However, it is impossible to control another person so you can only do so much to try to protect their faith and their doctrine. Instead of being fearful, at some point we must release them and trust God to do what we can’t.

Paul ended his time with the Ephesian elders with prayer (v. 36) and we know from his letters how earnestly he prayed for the spiritual life of all the believers and churches. This is the best way to care spiritually for those we cannot be with directly–pray for God’s continued work in their lives, for their protection from sin and from false doctrine, and for God to watch over their spiritual lives.

Are you sending a kid off to college soon? Have a young adult child who is moving to a different area to start a new life? Do you know anyone who is leaving our church or another good church but there is uncertainty about where they will worship? Pray. Warn them and express your love for them, but trust God to watch over them and pray daily for them to walk with him. There’s really nothing better you can do for another person spiritually.

2 Corinthians 11

Read 2 Corinthians 11.

Despite a lifetime of love, discipline, and teaching from good parents, young people sometimes reject their parents, even denouncing them, and choose instead to make foolish and sinful decisions.

That is the kind of heartbreak that comes to mind when I read 2 Corinthians 11 today. Paul poured his heart and soul into the Corinthian church. He loved them, wrote to them to give them guidance, and visited them when necessary, all to present them to Christ like a good father would present his virgin daughter to her husband. Despite his work and ambition for them, he dealt with constant concern that they would follow another Jesus or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit. This was due to the fascination that so easily overcomes us. Adam and Eve simply needed to trust God and keep his commands but Eve was fooled by the prospect of something greater than what God offered (v. 3). Likewise, the Corinthians flirted constantly, it seems, with false doctrine and new religious ideas. Instead of maintaining “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v. 3), Paul was concerned that they would leave Christ for something a bit more sophisticated or seemingly more spiritual.

This danger continues for us today.

Instead of studying the scriptures looking for a greater understanding of God’s character and Christ’s glory, Christians may become enamored with religious symbols and ceremonies because they feel more spiritual.

Or, instead of looking into the Word for God’s revelation, they turn instead to books where the author claims to have fresh revelation from God. Jesus may be—often is—referred to by these churches, preachers, or authors, but the Jesus they speak of is not the one who calls us to childlike faith and simple obedience. Their Jesus is a distortion, a false Christ, who claims to offer more than what the scriptures give us or who demands that we do more than fall on his grace for our spiritual life and take his word by faith for our daily growth. Christ is all that you need; as the infinite Son of God, he is more than enough. His work on this earth in life, death, and resurrection can save your soul eternally. His words and his church offer more than enough to satisfy the longings of your soul. Don’t be Eve-like, looking for something better than Christ or additional to Christ. Cling to him and follow him all the days of your life.

Galatians 5

Read Galatians 5.

Paul continued passionately, here in Galatians 5, to argue that the Galatians must not try to mix faith in Christ with obedience to the Law of Moses (vv. 3-6).

Verses 7-10 are a slight parenthesis in Paul’s argument. Paul stopped teaching about our freedom in Christ (vv. 1, 13) and began to wonder in print about who was responsible for the false teaching that had invaded their church (v. 7). In verse 9 he wrote, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” In other words, if the church tolerates just a little false doctrine, false doctrine will eventually pervade the entire church. Like cancer cells, false doctrine consumes the body of Christ slowly, but steadily.

Also like cancer, false doctrine is often unseen and undetected for a long time, sometimes until it is too late. Paul wrote this letter like a spiritual surgeon, seeking to cut out the spreading cells of false doctrine before it metastasized and killed the whole body.

False doctrine has existed in every age of humanity and, in our digital world, we have access to more of it than ever. Have you been sampling false teaching through TV broadcasts, books, podcasts, or online videos? Remember that it only takes “a little yeast” (v. 9) to leaven the entire loaf. We must be on guard, then. We must test everything against the teaching of scripture and reject everything that conflicts with God’s word.

Galatians 1

Read Galatians 1.

As our society becomes more secular, it is a relief when we find others who profess to know Jesus Christ. However, many people and groups have adopted the name of Jesus without embracing everything that the Bible teaches about Christ. Since they claim to love Christ and may say many things about Christ that we find agreeable, we want to affirm them as Christians and fellowship with them, too.

But, the scriptures warn us here (and elsewhere) to be on guard against “a different gospel” (v. 6). The church at Galatia was caught in a struggle over “a different gospel” when Paul wrote this letter to them. After receiving the good news that Christ alone saves people by grace alone through faith alone, they welcomed teachers who said that true faith in Christ must be accompanied by obedience to Old Testament law.

Paul said that was a “different gospel” and was “really no gospel at all” but rather an attempt to “pervert the gospel of Christ” (vv. 6b-7). It was “no gospel at all” because the good news has been replaced by the old news—obey God or else. Our faith in Christ teaches that the merits of Christ’s good works on earth (theologians call this his “active obedience”) and the penalty Christ paid for sin (Christ’s “passive obedience”) are applied to us by faith. You don’t need to obey the Law because Christ obeyed it perfectly and, by faith, God has credited you with that perfect obedience.

You don’t have to fear God’s penalty for your sins because Jesus paid the penalty fully through his death on the cross. Any “good news” that requires something more than what Christ has done for us is not good news at all; it is very bad news because we can’t save ourselves or contribute to our salvation in any way. We are fallen so we will inevitably fail to do whatever good works that other gospel would require of us. And, God isn’t impressed by our good works anyway, so we wouldn’t earn anything from him even if we could be perfect.

Note that Paul warned them and us to beware of the messenger in verse 7. Even if Paul himself were the messenger or if an angelic being appeared with supplementary instructions, that messenger would deserve, not God’s blessing but God’s eternal curse (v. 8). Just in case we missed it, Paul repeated this truth in verse 9.

It is so comforting to find someone else at work who believes in Jesus, isn’t it? Our tendency when we feel isolated in a secular world is to hold on to anyone else who claims to follow Jesus, too. If they truly do follow Jesus, that is an extraordinary gift.

But, if that person tells you that you need Christ plus something else, beware! The message they have believed is not good news that sets you free from the power of sin; it is, instead, a perversion of our faith (v. 7b) which will enslave you.

Matthew 7

Read Matthew 7.

In verse 13, Jesus urged his listeners to “Enter through the narrow gate.” That phrase compares the life and destiny of everyone to two very different roads leading to two very different destinations.

One gate is wide and the road beyond it is broad and there are a lot of people on it. However, Jesus said it “leads to destruction” (v. 13).

The alternative gate is small and the road it leads to is “narrow” but it “leads to life” (v. 14). But, Jesus said, “only a few find it” (v. 14).

Eternal life is hard to find and, comparatively speaking, very few people find it. That’s the obvious teaching of Matthew 7:13-14.

But verses 15-23 go into more detail. They tell us the implications of the fact that very few people find the road to eternal life. Jesus called out two implications of the narrow road to eternal life in verses 15-23:

  1. First, believers should beware of false prophets (vv. 15-19).
  2. Second, believers should beware of false professions of faith (vv. 21-23).

Let’s focus on the first of those two implications, namely, that believers should beware of false prophets (vv. 15-19).

We think of “prophets” as people who receive revelation from God to either predict the future or to rebuke people who are in sin. Those are both valid descriptions of what prophets in the Bible did. But prophets, generally speaking, were teachers and appliers of God’s word. They brought messages from God either from direct revelation or from scripture. Second Peter 2:16 equates “false prophets” with “false teachers” and I think that’s what Jesus has in mind here in Matthew 7:15.

The command, then, is for believers in Christ, who are on the narrow road to eternal life, to be cautious about anyone who claims to have a message from God.

Being cautious goes against the instincts of most of us. We’re so accustomed to unbelief and even hostility to our faith in the world that we happily receive anyone and everyone who comes in the name of Christ.

But Jesus told us to watch out. False teachers look like true believers. Jesus said “they come to you in sheep’s clothing” in verse 15b. But, despite how they look, they’re in disguise because they want to eat you alive. Jesus said “inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (v. 15c).

So we should be very cautious about every new professing believer we meet. We shouldn’t immediately accept or reject them. Rather, we should look at the product of their lives. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (v. 16a, 20). This changes the image from sheep and wolves to good and bad trees. Bad trees don’t produce good fruit (v. 16b, 17b) and good trees produce good fruit not bad fruit (v. 17a, 18).

Do professing believers that we meet demonstrate a life that is obedient to Jesus Christ?

  • Are they obedient to his words (vv. 24-27)?
  • Do they hunger for his righteousness (5:6) and for his truth (5:17-20)?
  • Do they strive to treat people right (5:21-22, 7:12) and do everything they can to repair broken relationships when they do treat people wrong (5:21-26)?
  • Do they judge themselves before they try to help others (7:1-6)?
  • Do they go to God to ask for what they need (7:7-12) or do they only apply human effort to get what they want?

And so on…. Do you see Christian growth, Christian desires, and Christian instincts in the lives of people who purport to be Christian leaders and teachers? If not, beware!

Ultimately, you should expect God to expose and remove every false teacher. Verses 19-20 says, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”

But the point of this teaching by Jesus is to get you to be more suspicious and more discerning about the supposed “Christian” influencers in your life. The Christian life is a narrow road, found by few (again, vv. 13-14) so there are more false teachers who come in Christ’s name than genuine believers who are also bringing God’s truth.

Because we have media that can broadcast one person’s ministry to millions, it is harder than ever to get a close look at how someone else lives. The less you can see about a person’s life, the more skeptical you should be about that person’s teaching.

Who are the major influences in your Christian life? Do you know anything about how they actually live as a Christian?

2 Kings 8, Micah 2, Psalm 119:121-176

Read 2 Kings 8, Micah 2, and Psalm 119:121-176 today. This devotional is about Micah 2.

Micah fought a two-front war in this chapter. 

First he spoke out against powerful, greedy people who used power to take the land and homes of others (vv. 1-2). Because of their sins, God would take all the land and hand it over others (vv. 3-5).

The second front Micah battled was from false prophets who attempted to silence Micah’s message (vv. 6-11). The message of these false prophets was summarized in the last line of verse 6 and the first three lines of verse 7. I will paraphrase their false message this way: “Shut up! We’re not going to lose to another nation, Micah! God’s patience is infinite (vv. 7b). He will never turn on his people.” Their argument was that God’s promises to his people were completely unconditional. No matter how much God’s people sinned, they would be safe because God loves them just that much.

It is always more pleasant to believe the prediction that we’ll be OK. If one economist is predicting a recession and another is saying that current problems in the economy are temporary but then a big boom is coming, which one would you want to believe? If one doctor tells you that your cough will clear up in a few days while the other says you have lung cancer, which message is more appealing? 

Micah’s situation was similar. He predicted pain and suffering for all of God’s people because the wealthy were exploiting average citizens. Meanwhile, the prophets of eternal optimism rebuked him and told these unrighteous businessmen that everything would be fine. 

We want things to be fine; we want good times. God’s message, however, wasn’t that good times were impossible. Instead, he offered a better way to prosperity: “Do not my words do good to the one whose ways are upright?” (v. 7d-e). God wanted his people to prosper but he wanted their prosperity to come as a blessing for obedience to his word. “Take the medicine,” God was telling his people. “Repent of your greedy oppression and do what is right and then everyone will prosper because I will bless you.”

Ultimately, God does have good plans in store for his people (vv. 12) when Jesus comes as king (v. 13). Before that, however, they would pay a heavy price for their sins. The best course of action was to believe God’s word, pay the price to undo what they had sinfully done, and do what was right going forward. Instead, they chose to listen to the sunny-side up prophets. Verse 11 sarcastically describes the kind of prophets we all, in our sinful nature, want: “If a liar and deceiver comes and says, ‘I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,’ that would be just the prophet for this people!” 

Are you listening to the hard truths of God’s word? Do we pay attention and change our ways when God’s word rebukes us? Or do we change the channel and listen instead to a message that offers more encouragement? Encouragement is good unless it distorts God’s word (as in verse 7a-c) and comforts us in our sinful ways. Everyone would rather get a massage than have surgery but only one of those ways will remove cancer and put you on the road to health again. Let God’s word surgically address your sins and shortcomings; then you will walk more righteously and follow Christ right into his kingdom.

1 Kings 12, Joel 1, 2 Timothy 4

Read 1 Kings 12, Joel 1, and 2 Timothy 4 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 12.

Just as God promised, the kingdom of David and Solomon was torn apart into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel (aka “the Northern Kingdom”). This division happened as a consequence of Solomon’s idolatry, a divine act of judgment, as we read yesterday. That was the divine side of the division.

The human side was accomplished by the foolishness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Instead of lightening the burden of taxation on the people of Israel, he promised to make things worse than ever. The Northern kingdom rallied around Jeroboam, a capable leader from Solomon’s administration, and made him king.

David and Solomon reigned over Israel for a combined 80 years and the two of them centralized political, economic, and spiritual power in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was delighted to be king but he worried that his fragile kingdom would “likely revert to the house of David” (v. 26) if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship. Instead of trusting God, who decreed this division and prophesied about it before it happened, Jeroboam decided to make his own gods to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem. Verse 28 told us that he ordered the creation of two golden calves. If you’re making your own religion, you might as well make it easy for people and offer them two convenient locations (vv. 28, 29). Everything he did made sense on a human level. What does not make sense is his statement in verse 28: “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

What?!

These idols were so new, so freshly manufactured, that they were still warm from the gold smelting furnace. Yet somehow the people were to believe that these idols had led God’s people out of Egypt generations earlier? 

Well, yes, if the calves represented gods rather than actually being gods. That seems to be what Jeroboam was saying to the people. “You don’t need no stinkin’ Ark of the Covenant to be the place where God is represented. Let these calves represent our gods instead. 

This was a clear attempt to appropriate Israel’s redemption story for Jeroboam’s advantage and apply it to the idols he made.

That’s often what false doctrine–false religion–does. It claims aspects of God’s true revelation and reapplies it some significant but false way.

A little bit of truth can help people swallow a whole lot of error.

Ask Jeroboam; he built his career on that principle.

Someone who knew God and wanted to be faithful to Him should have pointed out that the God who brought Israel out of Egypt was One Lord (Deut 6:4) not two calves.

A faithful servant of the Lord should also have said that the God who rescued them from Egypt commanded no graven images.

The same person should have pointed out what happened when Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship after the Exodus.

Instead, the Northern Kingdom liked the ease of having two convenient locations for worship as well as the ability to keep their redemption story without maintaining any connection to Jerusalem.

As Christians, we should be very careful. Many self-help books quote scripture but are filled with advice that is directly unscriptural. Don’t allow our faith to be pasted like a label on a can of manmade ideas.